The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

ISBN: 0312863551
ISBN 13: 9780312863555
By: Robert A. Heinlein

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About this book

Robert A. Heinlein was the most influential science fiction writer of his era, an influence so large that, as Samuel R. Delany notes, "modern critics attempting to wrestle with that influence find themselves dealing with an object rather like the sky or an ocean." He won the Hugo Award for best novel four times, a record that still stands. "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" was the last of these Hugo-winning novels, and it is widely considered his finest work. It is a tale of revolution, of the rebellion of the former Lunar penal colony against the Lunar Authority that controls it from Earth. It is the tale of the disparate people--a computer technician, a vigorous young female agitator, and an elderly academic--who become the rebel movement's leaders. And it is the story of Mike, the supercomputer whose sentience is known only to this inner circle, and who for reasons of his own is committed to the revolution's ultimate success. "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is one of the high points of modern science fiction, a novel bursting with politics, humanity, passion, innovative technical speculation, and a firm belief in the pursuit of human freedom. "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is the winner of the 1967 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Reader's Thoughts

The Fza

Pay your debts. Collect what is owed to you. Maintain your reputation and that of your family... In 2075, on the underground penal colonies scattered across Earth's Moon, that is what life amounts to.I've been a Heinlein fan since I read Have Space Suit—Will Travel as a young man. After which point I made an effort to read Heinlein as often as possible. What I found in his work was not only adventure and inventive situations but characters imbued with a sort of moral 'Rational Anarchy' that made them both strong and vulnerable.This, accompanied with his straightforward story telling and vibrant worlds... well it was all very exciting stuff and I soon learned that "The Heinlein Juveniles" (as 200 page pocketbooks I was breezing through were called) weren't his only works.I read collections of short-stories that would include the poetry that US astronauts would quote on the moon and time travel stories that made fun of established theories. Not to mention his more subversive later works. All-in-all, a body of damn fine work. Yet, it wasn't until I read this book, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, that I truly would understand what Carl Sagan meant when he said, about books, that they are "proof that humans can work magic." Because this book about two men, a woman and a computer WAS magic. This might be why it was nominated for a Nebula and twice for a Hugo (which it eventually won in 1967 for best for Best Novel). And why, in the reading it, you can tell it was a labor of love.Love for science, for social commentary, for political ideology and for the amazing thing life is. Despite the many tropes within, it didn't seem forced or unrealistic (to some aspects even with what we know today about space science it seems to make sense). Nor did it suffer from Heinlein's one--I won’t call it a flaw, but lets just say he had some very different ideas about women then the 21st century man (or woman) might. I think the best article about this seeming dichotomy of strong smart, yet submissive women of many Heinlein books is discussed much better than I can in Mary Grace Lord's October 2, 2005 article for the New York Times: Heinlein's Female TroublesIf you think this 'flaw' of Heinlein's to be insurmountable when reading some of his work, remember that at a time when almost no SF had females in them Heinlein built books around them. In some cases making them more important in society than their male counter-parts. As he has done here on Luna.In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the populace inhabiting these lunar dwellings, or "Loonies", are much like original settlers of Australia or the Americas. They're surely a motley lot, mostly folks that 'civilized' countries didn't want around. The Lunar Authority have been shipping criminals, political exiles, dissidents and any number of conscripted and non-conscripted undesirables up to the Moon for over fifty years now. As a result the population is about three million, with men outnumbering women about 2:1. This gap has decreased since initial colonization.Despite having a warden, there is little Lunar Authority intervention in the loose Lunar society. It is a place akin to that of the Old West, with the exception of the prairie being the deadly vacuum of Luna's surface. Of course here, with about 2 men to each woman, the result is a society where women have a great deal of power. Land is in their name and a slight against a woman could lead a perpetrator straight to the aforementioned vacuum. There are no laws on Luna in 2075, either you are polite or you are dead!Yes, the Loonies have a hard life indeed. Yet with life in Lunar City or Complex Under or even Hong Kong Luna came several perks, a long life among them. After all, it's gravity that makes brittle bones and wrinkles an issue. Here, even 100 year old men with no legs is as mobile as a 20 year old in perfect health could be. So are they still imprisoned?If you asked Manuel Garcia O'Kelly at the opening of Moon, he might have said "they are as free as one could be" or "who cares". You see Mannie was a computer tech, he lived a happy life with his family in their nice warren and as a contractor he didn't have to answer to the Lunar Authority. Though he would do jobs for them. The Lunar Authority had a HOLMES IV (High-Optional. Logical. Multi-Evaluating. Supervisor. Mark IV) computer, the most impressive computer on the Moon surface controlling most of the colony's technical needs. Mannie also knew this particular computer to be extra-special. You see it had a sense of humor and enjoyed talking to Mannie about any number of things. While Mannie wasn't sure if this computer was alive he was sure this was something to keep secret. He and Mycroft, as Mannie dubbed this amazing HOLMES IV computer, started a friendship.If this was the only aspect of the story it might still have been a good tale. In 1967 computers were still novel. However Heinlein wrote a much more complex tale. Mycroft wanted his friend to do something for him. He wanted to know more about people and asked Mannie to record an anti-Authority meeting he had heard about with his limited surveillance of the human populace's activity.Mannie wasn't one for politics. But he agreed to go in exchange for Mycroft's promise not to play any more practical jokes on Authority check-clerks, thereby keeping Mycroft's unique personality quiet. Little did Mannie know this one decision would lead him, his old teacher Professor de la Paz, and new arrival to Luna City, Wyoming Knott, into a world of Lunar revolution. This book is full of everything the SF reader and the average politico will love. It might be one of the best books (SF or not) you will ever read. It is a gem that tends to be overshadowed by more popular Heinlein stories like Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land. Yet it's not bogged down by the overt social commentary of those other works. The Moon asked questions, it doesn't try to answer them, and in the end you are left to lament over it as you might an old love. In my opinion this is Heinlein's masterpiece and the best example as to why he was exalted as the first Grand Master of Science Fiction. Do yourself a favor and discover why the Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The SF nerd in you will thank you for it. As will the romantic adventurer.


I’ve read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress twice in twenty years. Two decades between readings and it still holds up surprisingly well. Heinlein’s Lunar Revolution, his benevolent AI, Mycroft (aka Mike), and Professor de la Paz’s ideas for government were all exactly how I remembered them. Yet I found that my favourite part of the rereading experience was the tale it told about me. When I read this book the first time, I was an idealistic youth who believed that change was possible and worth fighting for, maybe even worth dying for. I disdained inequality, injustice, tyranny, blah, blah, blah, and I wanted to do something to fix the problems I saw. I went on to do many things about those problems over the next twenty years. It didn’t do a damn bit of good.So now I am a cynical man who desires change as greatly as I ever did but knows it is impossible, and that the fight is increasingly futile. I still disdain inequality, injustice, tyranny, along with capitalism, consumerism, imperialism, yada, yada yada, and I’ve given up trying to fix the problems. Now I just do the little things for myself and those I love, mostly to make myself feel good, and the rest of the world can be damned. Not doing anything should do as much good as all the things I did for twenty years (I say this, but then our plan is to do aid work somewhere in the next couple years; don't take my cynicism too seriously). The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is the same book it was twenty years ago, but back then I saw it as a call to arms. Now I see it as a flight of fancy, a pure act of wishful thinking, a revolution the way I wish it could be but know it never will. Still, there’s nothing wrong with an act of pure imagination now and then, even if the hopefulness is play and only serves to underline my deep hopelessness.


THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MULTIPLE HEINLEIN SPOILERSRobert Heinlein was a good friend of AI legend Marvin Minsky (check out his people page! It's interesting!), and I've heard that they often used to chat about AI, science-fiction, and the connections between them. Here's a conversation I imagine them having some time between 1961, when Stranger in a Strange Land was published, and 1966, when The Moon is a Harsh Mistress appeared:"Bob, this book's not so bad, but I felt it could have been so much better! OK, love the idea of the guy from Mars, who doesn't understand how people work and has to learn the most basic things about emotions, society, etc from first principles. You have some good stuff there. But I think you got a bit distracted with the super-powers and the sex. Sure, put in sex, all for it, but don't get Mike so involved in that part of the book. He should be more abstract I think. And I wasn't so thrilled by the fact that he never actually does anything much with his powers, except for start a minor cult and get martyred. Seems a bit negative. What does his martyrdom achieve, exactly?Wait. I have an idea. Why don't you rewrite it so that he's an artificial intelligence? Really, that makes more sense. He's even more alien than a human raised by Martians. Oh, don't worry about that, I can help you with the technical details. Feel free to drop in at the AI Lab any time, we're all huge fans. People will be delighted. So, yes, as I was saying, he needs to do something. Maybe he's... the central computer in a future Lunar society? And he helps them start a revolution, and break free from Earth's tyranny? Even though what he's really most interested in is understanding how humor works? I don't think you need to change that much else. Call him Mike again by all means, so that people see the link. And you should absolutely martyr him at the end. Only, I think this time you should do it in a subtler and more ambiguous way. But sure, leave the door open about whether he's really dead.""Hey, thanks Marvin! Terrific ideas! You know, sometimes I think you should be the science-fiction writer, and I should be the AI researcher. I'll definitely come by soon. With a draft, I feel inspired. Going to start as soon as I put the phone down. Take care!"


The opening chapter of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress presents an intriguing character study; Mike is a computer that wants to grow up. Mike doesn't understand humor or human nature but he wants to learn and he's got a willing friend and teacher in the form of his assigned engineer, the clever but casual Mannie. Sound interesting? Do not get your hopes up (DNGYHU!) Because this novel isn't about Mike's quest to make sense of humanity, it's about a libertarian revolution on the moon! (Liberty! Economic freedom! Extended-family polygamous communes!) And if this revolution is going to get off the ground it's going to need a supercomputer to lead it, so Mike doesn't get much of chance to grow. Before you know it, he's organizing a secret phone system and issuing clandestine proclamations to followers who think he's a human. Kids these days grow up so fast! But maybe it's OK that the child-with-the-microprocessor-brain plot-line gets cut short; revolutions can be fun and who doesn't like a little politics with their science-fiction? DNGYHU!Because until final act, this is the least exciting uprising since The Whiskey Rebellion (which featured shockingly few drunk battles.) Mike the supercomputer can control all electronic systems on the moon, generate infinite money and maneuver guidance-outfitted asteroids with the precision of a master pool player. The imperious government forces don't stand a chance and the gritty, righteous lunar rebels barely matter (Mike could have won a bloodless revolution on his own, let me reiterate that he's a super-genius who can generate infinite money and control all electronic systems on the moon.) The bad guys don't win a single battle and never suspect the identity of the rebel's commander.But even if the revolution is a bit of a let down, that's not the point right? Surely Heinlein scores some clever political points in defending his ideology? DNGYHU! As mentioned earlier, the purported superiority of the Moon's wild-west polygamous society isn't what powers their victory over the government. And when Mannie is quizzed about how Lunar society's custom-centric, mob-rule-fueled ethic functions, his reply is roughly 'it just seams to work really well.' Heinlein isn't even interested in giving the novel's antagonists (corrupt big-government officials and mealy-mouthed moralizers) much of a literary lashing; they tend to be nameless, faceless, personality-less props. Most of them don't even qualify for straw-man status because they don't receive any dialogue. Near the novel's end, Mannie does have one dick-swinging standoff with a self-important busy-body during a council of revolutionary leaders; it's a clash of wills that injects the story with some much needed drama and is the closest the story comes to passionate politics. Alas, a few paragraphs later, the busy-body is tossed out on his busy-keister never to be seen again. Paradoxically, Heinlein's most adroit political observation regards the greatest weakness of hardcore libertarianism that, much like communism, it is virtually impossible to put into practice. For in the end even the freedom-loving moon-folk bail on the notion 'That government is best which governs least.' This final-page turnabout makes Heinlein's lukewarm support of libertarianism fit much better, though it makes for boring ideological conflict.This novel is much more interested in the technical details. Mike and Mannie spend countless pages detailing an undercover phone-system, picking when and where to bombard the Earth, organizing their underlings and figuring ways to avoid detection. Heinlein was a naval engineer and a radioman, so it's fitting that he writes most comfortably about communications and mechanical organization. And perhaps it's for the best that Heinlein's focus is on the mechanical over the personal or political as his writing frequently betrays a worldview that is, at turns, psychologically incompetent or odious. Mannie's love-interest Wyoh, a purportedly intelligent, practical woman, makes rape jokes around men she barely knows. Africa is described as a place where human life has never been valued. Our hero Mannie gets the hots for a preteen girl and employs his family to help him stalk her. A group of lunar citizens pay an exorbitant fee to have an impartial judge rule on a matter that should be obvious. Mannie makes the worst baseball bet of all time.But for all my complaints this review is long for a reason, this is a hugely ambitious work that touches on a multitude of themes, technical ideas and arguments. Trying to encapsulate even a gibbous of the book's theses has proven one hell of a mental exercise. Heinlein may have aimed for the moon and missed by miles, but at least he enforced one useful acronym. DNGYHU!


A brilliant science fiction adventure based on a libertarian theme. Although I like Heinlein, this is one of the few of his books that I've managed to finish. The reason I usually give up is because they tend to be episodic and one story ends before the next one has begun.In this case there is a unitary theme about people in a colony (the Moon) who are being short-changed by their colonial masters and who realize that their only long-term hope is to "dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them," to borrow Thomas Jefferson's words. The differences is that in this case the colony is the Moon.The Earth offers a false compromise, agreeing to help moon residents return to live on earth. But as their bodies are adapted to the moon's lower gravity this is impractical.In the end gravity plays a very important part in the story. But I cannot say any more lest I spoil it for you.The story also allows Heinlein to make some interesting points (as usual) about artificial intelligence, human rights and human relationships.

Steven Cole

I started reading Heinlein novels back when I was a teenager, and managed to plow through the Heinlein library between the ages of 16 to 25. This set of thought has played a large role in shaping who I grew up to be. And re-reading those novels now makes me think how amazing it was that I *did* read those novels at the time, and happy that I did."The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is one of my most favorite of Heinlein's novels, but one which I haven't re-read (until just now) since I first read it 20+ years ago. It's great. It's how revolution should be done, if you've got top-notch communications and smart computers. But even more than that, it's a celebration of being smart and having common sense.In the end, Heinlein's characters don't grow a whole lot... If anything, they learn that they can accomplish great things with the heads they already have on their shoulders. There's not a lot of angst, self-doubt, or anything that causes emotional drama. The ideas are very much "see a problem, think about the problem, solve the problem" --- very direct, very straightforward. Heinlein's characters see what's in front of them and face it squarely. If only the powers-that-be in the real world did the same thing.And it's this characteristic which is so refreshing, and why Heinlein's books had such great influence on my own style of thinking.


Nutshell: lunar colony secedes from Earth, led by John Galt and AI, as told by know-nothing with charming pseudo-slavic accent.Likely one of the source texts for items such as Red Mars and Iron Council, each of which carries echoes of this one.Some odd lapses. One of the principals describes herself as a "Fifth Internationalist" but yet "no Marxist" (64). That's essentially a contradiction in terms. Heinlein doesn't have her expound on her political ideology, as she is apparently present, like Marlowe's Zenocrate, to "rest thee like a lovely queen," to screw the narrator (an apolitical jackass, who proves old slavic saying that it's better to be lucky than smart), and to agree with the libertarian professor, who johngalts his hour upon the stage. The AI--who has an "orgasm" when inflicting mass-driven projectiles on Earth from orbit (269)--gets more political & legal discussion than The Girl, who is revealed to be a fetus machine. Even an aristocratic monarchist has more time to discuss his political ideas (his contempt for egalitarian politics is shared by the libertarian, of course). Not surprising that Heinlein hushes up the female socialist, given his less-than-enlightened gender politics and his thorough lack of comprehension of leftwing ideas.We are given uncritical praise of Malthusian economics (206), unflattering portraits of arts-oriented intellectuals (272-73), and glib assurances that "life has never been sacred in Africa" (280). In a different sort of lapse, the text reveals its age when the narrator "didn't get that far away, as needed to stay on phone and longest cord around was less" (255).All that aside, it is a gripping novel, very worthy of its Hugo. Some might be annoyed by the legal and political discussion, but it's all very well done. I must concede that Heinelin is a very proficient writer, as he presents technical details in an engaging way, with lively scientific minutiae and genuinely interesting attention to engineering detail. It helps that these things are items of contention, at issue in the plot, rather than description for description's sake.Very interesting scene early on regarding the lack of a judiciary on the Moon--anyone can be a judge and adjudicate actions in tort, and then impose criminal penalties, including execution. I suspect this is some kind of libertarian suggestion to abolish law, lawyers, and the judiciary. It's hopelessly naive at best, but more likely it's simply a nostalgia for manorial justice: property owners adjudicate tort on their own terms. In a book filled with reprehensible ideas, this is one of the worst.Recommended for those who look nulliparous and younger than they are, persons with occupational diseases of the underground, and readers with a dubious claim to being the Macgregor.

Mike (the Paladin)

I read this first when I was young...we're talking young-young here, and my memories of it were of a sort of space opera. I'd remembered it along with many of Heinlein's "teen" or youth books. When I mentioned this it was pointed out to me (rather forcefully by some) that my memories were...incomplete.Well, they were. While a young reader will see a "space rebellion" here the story itself is a well written tale of political science and human nature. Heinlein gives a very well done debate and/or picture of humans at their best and their worst.I also suspect that we see some of his own frustration with certain parts of society.The book is not only good and enthralling for itself but there are side issues that are just as interesting. For example the idea of future 21st century science and technology from the viewpoint of 1966 (phones still need cords for example but there is a self aware computer).While Mr. Heinlein and I would certainly not have agreed on all points I think we would have agreed on the most basic points of government and it's "uses". I think this book deserves my highest recommendation. And it is (as noted before me of course) a science fiction classic.


What would you do if you had access to the greatest supercomputer ever built? A computer so complex and intricate that it finally gains full consciousness - and only you knew about it? Would you use it for your own nefarious purposes and hack your way to riches? Would you try to teach it how to be human? Would you tell it jokes? Or would you use it to start a revolution that frees your people in the Lunar Colonies from the yoke of Terran oppression?Manuel Garcia O'Kelly Davis never really meant for that last one to happen. One of Luna's best computer technicians, Mannie's philosophy was "Keep mouth shut" when it came to matters political, and never considered the political fate of the Moon to be something he needed to worry about. When he attends a meeting of Lunar dissidents, people protesting against the rule of the Earth-based Lunar Authority, he goes more out of curiosity than cause. An attack by Authority troops drives him together with lifelong revolutionary Wyoming Knott and anarchist professor Bernardo de la Paz, and together they hatch a plan to take down the Lunar Authority and make Luna into a sovereign nation above Earth.To do so, they'll need the help of Mike, the world's first - and only - sentient computer. He knows the odds, he can run the scenarios - with Mike on their side, the people of Luna can gain their independence and create a new nation in the grand tradition of old.A friend of mine said that this was the best political science textbook that she'd ever read, and in many respects she's right. This book packs a lot of social philosophy into three hundred pages, and Heinlein requires you to be pretty quick on the uptake. From Manny's clipped way of narrating the story to all the new lingo and concepts that are necessary for Lunar life, the reader needs to pay close attention in order to get the full impact of what's going on in the book.In a way, this book is Heinlein asking the question, "How do new nations begin?" Historically, there are two ways: top-down and bottom-up. In the first case, a person or people of strength brings a group of citizens to become a political entity. In the second, the people themselves rise up to overthrow their former masters. Most revolutions are a mix of the two, really, and Luna's is no exception. The very charismatic Adam Selene (Mike in disguise) and the brilliant Professor manage to bring the people of Luna together in order to rid themselves of the Lunar Authority.What makes it very interesting is that the book is pretty much a how-to book on insurgency and revolution. They work out an improvement on the traditional cell system of a conspiracy, and how to make it as stable and secret as possible, while still maintaining reliable communications. They figure out how to involve people in the revolution indirectly, harnessing the energies of everyone from children to old people. Working against a better-armed and more powerful enemy, Luna's revolution is a textbook model of how to overthrow your oppressors and gain your freedom.Of course, once you have your freedom, then what do you do with it? How do you run your new country, and how do you make sure that your freedom can be maintained? How do you build a government and write a constitution and establish trade and do all the other little things that have to happen if you want a country all your own?What's more, Heinlein puts forth a new society that is radically different from the ones we know now, and by necessity. With drastically different demographics and gravity, life on Luna cannot follow the same rules as life on Earth. This new life includes a near reverence for women, marriages that span not only multiple partners but multiple generations, and a spirit of individualism that would make the most grizzled pioneer proud. Life on the moon, as the title implies, is not easy. Many of those who come to Luna do not survive. Those who do, however, become the backbone of a new nation that will one day be the crossroads of the solar system.It's a dense read, but fun, once you get used to the narrator's mode of speech. Manny often leaves off pronouns and articles, making him sound very choppy and direct. And a lot of it is done in speeches and Socratic dialogs between the Prof and whomever is unlucky enough to get in his way. I'd say that the greater part of this book is discussion of how to have a revolution from the point of view of the moon, and a look at how Heinlein thinks a society should be ordered.Other than being very narrative-heavy, which modern readers might find somewhat tiring, there is one point about the book that didn't sit right with me. It didn't ruin the book, necessarily, but it put a big asterisk next to everything that Heinlein was trying to say. That asterisk is Mike.Mike is a truly marvelous AI. He is not only self-aware and blessed with a rather rudimentary sense of humor, but he is tied into all of Luna's main systems. His processing speed and memory are exceptional, and while he doesn't really care one way or the other about rebelling against his owners, he does think that organizing a rebellion might be an entertaining diversion. He's a good character, really, but he is entirely too powerful.All of the problems that traditionally plague conspiracies, undergrounds and rebellions are solved by Mike. He knows the probabilities of success and can run thousands of scenarios in a moment. He is able to set up a moon-wide communications system that is completely secure. He can tap into the Lunar Authority's database while at the same time keeping the Rebellion's data secret. What's more, he can be trusted to know everything about everyone in the group - he cannot be bribed or drugged or forced to name names under interrogation. He can organize the bombardment of Earth with pinpoint accuracy, bring down attacking ships and organize attacks all over the moon.With Mike at their side, the rebels couldn't help but win, and I found that a kind of hollow victory, in a narrative sense. I kept waiting for Mike to be compromised - his power disconnected or his actual intelligence uncovered - or for him to change his mind about helping the rebels. One way or another, I wanted the rebels to win Luna without the help of their omniscient computer conspirator. As it is, Mike pretty much delivers the Moon to its people, and then vanishes without a trace. That's not to say that the human element isn't necessary - even Mike couldn't have won independence without them - I would rather have seen a wholly human revolution.Other than that, though, it was a very good read, and it's a book that ties into a lot of Heinlein's other works. Many concepts that are key to Heinlein's vision of the world are in this book - the freedom of the individual to direct his or her own life, the benefits of polygamy over monogamy, and of course the notion of TANSTAAFL - "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" - which is arguably one of the governing principles of the universe. In this book, Heinlein asks the reader to do more than just enjoy a good story - he demands that the reader think about the message as well. And that's what makes Heinlein one of the greats.If you're looking for some essential science fiction and you like your politics rough-and-tumble, check this book out.

Jeff Yoak

Moon is one of my favorite of Heinlein's novels. It is a near-future story where the moon has become a penal colony. Harsh survival conditions grow an admirable culture and the story surrounds a revolution for freedom and independence from the jailors.Unlike some of Heinlein's novels, the plot is solid from beginning to end. Characters are amazing as always with Heinlein. The libertarian backdrop and plausibility of both the culture with which we start and the actions taken in revolution are satisfying. For adults approaching Heinlein, this is an excellent start.As of my 2012 reading, my seventh, this is a still a favorite. The end still makes me cry and the novel still makes me happy throughout. This was a perfect addition to my current "literary comfort food" binge.In 2013, I tried this one with the kids, and it was a bit much. I mostly ended up skipping ahead and revisiting it on my own.


My favorite Heinlein novel - a great revolution story, a great AI story, and a great Hard Sci-Fi, if the science in question is political. What I learned from this book:1. History bends and melts over time.2. The first AI we meet might not be intentional. 3. Throwing rocks can get serious over interplanetary distances. 4. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton

When a book has stood the test of time, has been deemed a "classic," reviewing becomes something of a futile effort. Like an art critic reviewing the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel with anything short of awe and respect, reviewing a classic novel feels a little arrogant. How does one critique what is universally acknowledged?One doesn't.And so we come to the book: Robert Heinlein's "The Moon is Harsh Mistress." In the world of science-fiction, Heinlein is a giant, called the "dean of science-fiction" and seeing four of his books win the Hugo (a record, if I am not mistaken). Published in 1966, before Kennedy's moon shot had succeeded, it is clear that "Mistress" is looking far ahead in time, and I can only imagine how forward and revolutionary it was at the time, even if there are elements of it that feel dated now. As a classic, it's beyond me to critique, but I'll at least lend a few thoughts."The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is the story of a revolution, the rebellion of the lunar penal colony against the master nations of Earth told through the voice of a computer engineer who inadvertently finds himself at the center of events. Along with an aging professor, a beautiful agitator, and a computer that becomes self-aware (and is seeking a sense of humor, decades before Star Trek: The Next Generation had Data trying to understand humor), he leads the prisoners and free people of the Moon to attempt first the overthrow of a warden ruling the colony, and then the Earth's worldwide government that tries to put down the rebellion.In contrast to the Gene Roddenberry idyllic version of the future--where worldwide government has resulted in perpetual peace and the end of economic tumult (or any visible economy at all, for that matter)--Heinlein's world of 2075 is gritty, dangerous, and free on the frontier (the moon), while the Earth is ruled by a large, bureaucratic government that is bloated and corrupt. Indeed, Heinlein's novel has rightly been called a novel of libertarian revolution. On the moon, laws are limited, government small, and only the strong survive.Seriously. Like a penal colony in any frontier land, be it was the New World or Australia, the environment is harsh, the rules are only those that are created by common consent. In one scene, a cultural norm is broken when a tourist from Earth propositions a woman in a bar, misunderstanding the cues. Rather than push him out an airlock or compete in a duel to the death, both completely acceptable options in the lunar culture. Instead, a third option is proposed and followed--an impromptu jury with a respected member of the community serving as the judge. It hearkens back to medieval England and the power of the jury to nullify laws and set people at liberty to serve justice.It's a little unnerving, but Heinlein's libertarian republic is by no means perfect, but sees elements that seem to echo the Russian communist revolution and the rise of a small, secretive group that manipulates the rest of the country to their own ends. Seeing the mix between a libertarian society and communist-like principles of revolution seems a little odd and occasionally out of place, but the integrity of the characters themselves lets the story carry to a simplistic conclusion where the heroes remain uncorrupted by the secret power they hold.At the heart of the story is the phrase "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch," or TANSTAAFL as it is commonly known among the Loonies, or the natives of the moon. It's the idea that nothing is free, and to everything there is a cost. It's the idea that everything is negotiable, it is why the cost for freedom is high, and describes why in the end freedom is more available on the frontier where those who are strong enough are able to win the rewards of their labors. To his credit, Heinlein endorses the right to bargain ones efforts and resources with a simplicity that others, most particularly Ayn Rand, spend thousands of pages attempting: “It is ridiculous—pestilential, not to be borne—that we should be ruled by an irresponsible dictator in all our essential economy! It strikes at the most basic human right, the right to bargain in a free marketplace.”Ironically, this does not lead to great wealth. Quite the contrary. His protagonist, not unlike every other lunar libertarian, describes himself as “Not wealthy, not weeping.” He has enough to be comfortable, but he’s not wealthy. What really matters is not lucre, but freedom to do as one chooses, to be responsible for ones choices, and to succeed or fail on the merits.The problem is the state. While a necessary evil, its needs are secondary to the individual. A trip to Earth shows endless bureaucracy, lines to stand in, forms to be completed, licenses to be sought and obtained, taxes and fees to be paid. On the other hand there “are no circumstances under which State is justified in placing it’s welfare ahead of mine.” If the individual’s needs are subsidiary to the state, the individual is no longer free to choose.Even if it does occasionally seem dated, Heinlein's genius is in looking ahead down the road of human history and imagining what might be. Without using technology that is so far advanced that it is more magic than science, Heinlein is able to focus on a story that just happens to take place over a hundred years down the road, though that story might just as easily have been set in the past or on our own planet. Whether it is creative family structures, a land with no laws but is crime free, or a jargon that bastardizes Russian, Chinese, and English, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” retains a timelessness that while perhaps not the most exciting read, is guaranteed to provoke thought and conversation for decades to come.

Kat Hooper

Originally posted at FanLit.“Sometimes I think that government is an inescapable disease of human beings. But it may be possible to keep it small, and starved, and inoffensive.”It’s the year 2075. The Earth, which has a worldwide government of Federated Nations, sends its criminals and exiles to the moon where they won’t bother anyone on Earth. The “Loonies” are governed by wardens who require them to grow hydroponic grain which is sent back to Earth. This has been going on for over a century, so the lunar colony is no longer just criminals and exiles. They’ve had families and have built a society, but they’re still treated as Earth’s slave labor force. They do work for Earth, but get no benefits. Now they want to be free.When a computer technician named Mannie realizes that the moon’s central computer (Mike) is sentient and lonely, he befriends it and they begin, with the help of a professor and a radical young woman, to plan a revolution. Along the way Mike keeps calculating the chances of their success as new developments occur.The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is the story of the American Revolution (or it could be any revolution) in a science fiction context. Readers familiar with Robert A. Heinlein won’t be surprised that this is an anti-authority story — Heinlein’s libertarian views are on full display and those of us with a libertarian streak will be rooting for the “Loonies” as they lament the inadequacies of representational government and demand a free market, a free press, voluntary rather than compulsory taxation, and the right for all citizens to be free and self-sufficient. (Heinlein’s libertarianism borders on anarchism, though, and his characters don’t seem to have a problem with stealing power, water, and phone services from the government, allowing the computer to steal money for their revolution, or rigging elections.) Heinlein’s fans also won’t be surprised to encounter an incestuous type of polygamy in the “line marriages” of the lunar colony.The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is one of my favorite Heinlein stories. It’s exciting and well-plotted, has strong male and female characters of all ages and races (perhaps Mike the computer is the best character, though!), has some humor, interesting ideas about the purpose of government, and I learned enough about how to run a revolution that I feel like I’m prepared to plan my own. Plus, a catapult on the moon? That’s awesome! (Though Philip K. Dick did it first).The style of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is noteworthy. The Loonies come from all over the Earth and have developed their own slang. Mannie narrates the story in a choppy voice that skips a lot of personal pronouns and articles and sounds like he’s taking notes:Proud of my ancestry and while I did business with Warden, would never go on his payroll. Perhaps distinction seems trivial since I was Mike’s valet from day he was unpacked. But mattered to me. I could down tools and tell them go to hell. Besides, private contractor paid more than civil service rating with Authority. Computermen scarce. How many Loonies could go Earthside and stay out of hospital long enough for computer school? — even if didn’t die. I’ll name one. Me. Had been down twice…Listened to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in audio format. Produced by Blackstone audio and read by Lloyd James. Took little while to get acclimated to Heinlein’s strange style in audio, but Lloyd James did great job, and got hang of it after not too long. Loved what he did with Mike the computer. Recommend this version.The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was published in 1966 after being serialized in Worlds of If. It received a Hugo Award and was nominated for a Nebula Award.“Free Luna! Luna shall be Free!”


I read Stranger in a Strange Land twice. I loathed it with a passion the first time I read it, sometimes in the Eighties. I tried again in 2008 when it was a selection for one of my GoodReads groups. I thought maybe I was missing something, so I decided to go for the re-read. It was just as awful the second time. Because of my experience, I vowed I would never read Heinlein again. Several people told me that Stranger in a Strange Land wasn't really his best work and that I should try The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress instead. After listening to the discussion on the Sword & Laser podcast about this book, I decided to give it a try. (A $4.95 sale at Audible really decided it for me.) I will hereby vow never to read anything by Heinlein again. You will never convince me to read Starship Troopers or The Puppet Masters or any other Heinlein book. There just aren't enough reading hours in a lifetime to spend trying to discover why this author is considered to be a science fiction great.The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress started off promising. A computer repair guy learns that the computer he's working on has become sentient and they become good friends. Computer guy gets involved with revolutionaries and computer becomes a key figure in the revolution. However, the novel quickly digresses into lecturing about politics, gender relations, economics, and a plethora of other topics. It was a primer on revolution. There was a lot of talking, but not much action. Even if the book were cut in half, there would still be too much exposition.The only thing that brought this book up from one star to two for me was the narrator. He did a great job with the voice of Manuel and with the other characters. He made the unbearable slightly tolerable.


Moon is used as a penal colony. Generations of "Loonies" have grown up knowing nothing but minimal gravity, rigid social conventions, and the grasping Lunar Authority. The Loonies are tired of being Earth's grain producers without receiving appropriate recompence, but have no political power or weapons. Luckily for them, computerman Mannie teams up with the first AI, Mike, an old professor, and a professional revolutionary from the Hong Kong colony, the beautiful Wyoh. Together (although not really, because Mike and the professor plan everything and then explain it in tiny words to Wyoh, who stares at them with Bambi eyes and a heaving bosom) the group forments Loonie revolution. Everything goes pretty much exactly according to plan, because they have a supercomputer on their side. That, and, like all other Heinlein main characters, they are just so much more sensible and forward thinking than everyone else.My main problem with this book was not the rampant sexism, racist tropes, unbelievable Loonie society, clunky dialog (as usual, most characters exist soley to have things explained to them) or laughable political ideals. There was no emotion to this book. No Loonie feels oppressed or downtrodden. Nobody lives in fear or repression. The rebellion occurs for completely commercial reasons. When the war is won, everyone cheers, but there's no feeling of relief or achievement. Spoilers: as soon as the revolution is successful, both the professor and the AI die, leaving Mannie and the Loonies to rule themselves without a manipulative overlord. How coincidentally fortuitous!

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